Israel on Friday braced for mass Palestinian protests triggered by tensions over the placement of metal detectors at a Jerusalem holy site revered by both Jews and Muslims.
Israeli police said they would prohibit Palestinian men under the age of 50 from entering Jerusalem’s Old City for Friday Muslim prayers, but would allow women of all ages.
Typically, thousands of worshippers descend on Fridays to the Haram al-Sharif mosque compound, known to Jews as the Temple Mount.
Muslim leaders have urged worshipers to skip Friday prayers at neighborhood mosques across the city and instead come to the shrine in order to boost crowd numbers, which are expected to rise to the tens of thousands.
Palestinians have also been urged to converge on Israeli military checkpoints in the occupied West Bank.
Worshippers have been holding prayers on the streets outside the Haram al-Sharif mosque compound since last Sunday when Israeli police installed metal detectors and turnstiles at its entrance.
A Muslim woman goes through a new security checkpoint established at the entrance to the holy site.
There have also been clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police, including on Thursday when more than 20 protesters were injured in Jerusalem.
Israeli authorities say the security measures are necessary after three Arab Israeli gunmen killed two police officers at the entrance of the shrine. The attackers were shot dead.
The standoff over the holy site has raised concern it could unleash a third Palestinian intifada, or uprising. The second intifada was triggered in 2000 after former Israeli President Ariel Sharon visited the holy compound.
There was reportedly debate within the Israeli security establishment over the necessity of the metal detectors, with the military and the Shin Bet security service finding them unnecessary.
Muslim Palestinians have been praying on the streets outside the mosque complex since the weekend.
But after a security meeting on Thursday Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided not to remove the metal detectors and gave police authority to make the decision.
Gilad Erdan, Israel’s public security minister, argued the detectors were needed to maintaining security. “The Israeli police needs these metal detectors so the security checks can give a proper response to the security considerations,” he said on Thursday.
The issue has quickly taken on an international dimension as the Haram al-Sharif mosque compound is considered the third most holy site in Islam after Medina and Mecca.
Israel and Jordan have been in talks to diffuse tensions. The White House issued a statement on Wednesday urging Israel and Jordan to find a solution that maintains security and “the status quo.”
Palestinians accuse Israel of attempting to alter the status quo in which Jews are forbidden to worship and the holy site is under the custodianship of Jordan and managed by Islamic Waqf.
Jews consider the Temple Mount to be the holiest site in Judaism.